I had one of those synchronicity weeks. You know, where you start thinking about something, and it shows up everywhere? It all started as I was walking down my block, and then the next block: a recent visitation from the flyer fairies had left the brownstone-lined street littered with advertising circulars. Local supermarket flyers were tucked into every wrought-iron fence and doorframe, plastic-bagged flyers from stupid chain stores were spread over steps, in vestibules, and pooled in the corners of front yards. And the crazy thing is that this happens several times a week.
Then, three days ago, I came home and found a new pile of flyers (I had, of course, cleaned up the first round — the Sanitation Department gives tickets on sidewalk litter with relish). This latest batch of garbage weighed in at an impressive 18 ounces. Some dozen packets of individually plastic wrapped flyers from Verizon, Sears, and Home Depot had been left on the steps leading into my three-small-apartment, four-resident abode. Apart from the absurdity of the number of flyers left, there was the growing indignation at being made to deal with other people’s garbage. Once upstairs it took me a couple of minutes to separate the flyers from their plastic wrappers so that I could at least recycle the paper portion of this gift from unchecked capitalism. With each packet unwrapped I grew angrier and angrier.
Why, in a city whose Sanitation Department claims to be leading the most advanced recycling and waste-reduction program in the world, do I have to clean up/sort/recycle/dispose of pounds and pounds of unsolicited advertising every week? Why do I have to walk down streets covered in garbage, a full 90 percent of which are these same sales flyers in various states of decay? Why, in a time when we are coming to understand far too well that our actions, our patterns of consumption, are actually destroying the world, are hundreds of companies allowed to generate tons of garbage and spread it through our streets, unregulated and, apparently, unpunished? And why, even if the stuff makes it to our recycling bins, do we have to pay to have it taken away and recycled?
Ironically, the department of Sanitation does encourage New Yorkers to lessen the quantities of USPS junk mail they receive. FYI, 80 BILLION pieces of “direct mail” come through the U.S. Post Offices every year: that’s 40 million tons of material, all of which has been manufactured, mailed, schlepped around on trucks and planes, and then dropped in mailboxes. Less than half of it is even looked at, and then it has to be bagged up, carted off by trucks again, recycled or landfilled, all at the expense of taxpayers. I really hate to drag out the old, overused “taxpayers” chestnut, but in this case, I’m making an exception. The expense of disposing of our waste is growing and growing, and the reality is that we need to drastically reduce the amount of waste we produce; recycling’s great, but it’s inefficient, and consumes a lot of energy.
So, I think the time has come for us to stand up, and take back our stoops (and mailboxes). If you live in a building like mine, prone to being dumped on, fight back! Post a sign on your door or gate or first-floor window. You can download one from theLMagazine.com (You’re welcome!) or make your own. If the flyers keep coming, call the advertisers and the flyer distribution companies and tell them you’re fed up. And call 311 and complain, complain, complain. For junk that comes through the mail, start by downloading the Stop Junk Mail card from theLMagazine.com, fill it out and send it on. I’ll be going into greater detail about how to kill the many-headed mail monster in a future column, but that’s a good start. •
to download form to send to direct marketers.
to download a "No Fliers" sign.